Posting Workouts on Social Media Can Help You Stick to Them

Posting Workouts on Social Media Can Help You Stick to Them

I could rattle on and on about the downsides of social media. The phone-addicted residents in my building who check me out as they exit the elevator (it’s hard to see where you’re going with your nose in your phone) are a particular pet peeve of mine. When it comes to health and fitness, influencers, well intentioned or not, can have a negative impact on perceptions of health and what is also attainable.

But social media can have some positive effects. In fact, research shows that it can actually be helpful in promoting what I consider to be the most powerful form of motivation there is.

Let’s start with a premise that most are all too familiar with: Staying consistent with exercise is challenging.

As a fitness director at a holistic weight loss company, a big part of my job is helping people navigate the challenges of exercise adherence. In my practice, and also in my book, I talk about how integrating exercise into your self-concept is important to ensure consistency.

This idea of ​​self-concept is also called identity, or your self-categorization into a particular role. Identity is essentially the gold standard for motivation. This is because people who categorize themselves as exercisers are not only consistent, but they are consistent in the face of obstacles and life interruptions. In fact, identity is even more important than habit because habits are subject to breaking when disruptions occur.

Exercise identity theories suggest that investment, commitment, and self-referential statements (“I am an exerciser”), skill development, and social support are mechanisms through which identity can be developed.

While participating in a one-off exercise may be quick, identity development is slow. It takes time to demonstrate commitment and skill development. But there may be a way to use social media to accelerate identity development. This is because another possible mechanism of identity development is self-expression. In a 2021 article written by one of my colleagues, Ryan Rhodes, researchers analyzed 12 months of Instagram data along with questionnaires assessing current physical activity levels and exercise identity. They examined the percentage of posts related to exercise, the number of verified fitness accounts participants followed, and the likes they received for each post.

The researchers found that the percentage of exercise-related Instagram posts and fitness-related followers was significantly associated with exercise identity. The number of likes received by participants is not related to identity, which in my mind is an excellent finding because it is the only measure that cannot be controlled by the user.

They also found that for every one unit increase in exercise identity participants engaged in an additional 34 minutes physical activity per week.

What should you do?

Some of our most enthusiastic members post their workouts on social media. They are consistent and demonstrate to the world that they are exercisers. Their documentation of their fitness journey usually begins not only as a way to hold themselves accountable, but to motivate others as well.

I understand that posting on social media, especially posting exercises, can seem daunting. But the first thing I would recommend is to think about the positive impact your change can have on your social network—on the people you care about. If you post, other exercises may be more likely to pick up simply based on social requests. The photo or video doesn’t even have to show you working out. You can post pictures of the gym you go to, a screenshot of your routines, or of nature walks (hopefully with your dog. Please take pictures of your dog.).

Another low-hanging fruit is simply sharing a story of what you do for exercise.

Staying consistent with exercise is challenging, but not impossible. There are a number of tools you can use to help; social media may be just one that helps develop identity formation.

While there are certainly other routes to identity development, they are slow. The posting is fast, which is one reason to share your workout experiences on social media. (That is, unless you live in my building and plan to poke me in the shoulder while scrolling through your photos of you in the gym…)

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